Diversity in fiction is important!
Updated: Sep 8, 2020
It shouldn’t be hard to find yourself represented in the pages of the books you read, but when able-bodied, cisgendered, heterosexual Caucasian authors, agents and publishing houses dominate the market…it can be hard.
This is not to say your favourite author or publishing house are inherently bad for producing books with Caucasian, cisgendered, heterosexual, able-bodied characters, by the way, but that we – the reader - are missing out on so many important and incredible stories when we stick within a very narrow band of creators. And that’s without acknowledging that Every. Single. Person. should be able to walk into a library or bookshop and find themselves represented within more than a few token books and authors. (And these authors should be celebrated, win awards and earn the same amount of money as their counterparts. Period.).
In 2019 the second Diversity Baseline Survey by Lee & Low Books was released. The survey includes literary agents, reviewer employees, trade publishing employees and members of the Association of University Presses (basically the people responsible for choosing and putting out the books and articles you read). The results are startling. 76 percent of respondents identified as White. 74 percent identified as a cis woman (over 90 percent as cis gendered). 81 percent were straight. 89 percent were non-disabled.
There’s lots of associated statistics you can look into if you want (did you know in America there are more children’s books featuring an animal as the main character published than books with a person of colour (POC) as the lead character?), and I highly recommend you do if this is something that interests you.
Enough of the rant. More about what you can do!
What can you do?
I’ve put together a short list of things that you as a reader (of any background or identification) can do. You may not be able (or want) to do any of these. I may have missed some things out. That’s okay, we’re learning together, please just politely point it out in the comments below.
1. Research, read and champion books that showcase a diverse range of characters
2. Research, read and champion POC, LGBTQ+ and disabled authors. Read books that have been translated, or books from authors from a country other than your own.
3. Research and purchase books from independent booksellers and publishing houses that support POC, LGBTQ+ or disabled authors.
4. Recommend these authors, booksellers and books to your friends and colleagues! If you are part of a book club, make sure your reading list is diverse and ask yourself why it’s not already that way. Join or set up your own book club to help you expand your reading list!
5. Demand that the industry does better. This can be through your buying power or by calling out publishing houses through social media/writing letters. Call for publishing houses to provide PAID internships and have EDI policies in place that actually benefit people.
6. Call out books that do ‘diversity’ badly. This is a tricky one, but throwing in a side character that falls into the diversity ‘tick box’ is NOT a good thing, especially if they are just a stereotype or have problematic behaviours – it just enforces stereotypes that become perpetuated in literature AND in real life, and rewards lazy performative behaviours.
7. Support organisations that support POC, LGBTQ+ or disabled authors. Support charities and organisations that fund literacy and arts programmes in your country or region. Sign petitions to make school reading lists diverse or support the arts. Volunteer. Mentor. Donate. Campaign. If you have the opportunity, speak to your local government or teaching board about the importance of diversity in literature.
8. Make sure your child, sibling, niece/nephew has access to books that showcase POC, LGBTQ+ and disabled characters. This can be especially important if they are being brought up in a homogeneous environment or their school doesn’t do this.
9. Make sure you aren't existing in an echo chamber - go out and follow new influencers, book bloggers, book communities and websites etc. who challenge you. Make sure to get your book suggestions from a wide range of places!
I always want to learn more. I always want to do better. I am not perfect. If you want to share any other recommendations, please do.